People who know Wall Street lore sometimes recall that Fed chairman William Miller— John Volcker’s immediate predecessor— joked that most Americans believed the Federal Reserve was either an Indian reservation, a wildlife preserve, or a brand of whiskey.
The Fed, of course , is certainly none of those things, but there are also one other thing the Government Reserve is not: an actual financial institution. It is simply a government company that does bank-like things.
It’s easy to see why many people might think it is the bank. “ Bank” is right there in the name of the 12 regional banks that make up the system: for example , the Federal Book Bank of Kansas Town. The Fed also enjoys many titles that make it sound like a bank. It’s occasionally called the “ lender of last resort. ” Or even it is sometimes called “ a banker’s bank. ” Moreover, many people often call the Fed “ the central bank. ” That phrase is useful enough, but not quite true.
Moreover, even critics from the bank often repeat the myth that the Federal Hold is “ a private bank, ” as if that were the main problem with the Federal Reserve. And then there are the particular economists who like to spread fairy tales about how the Fed is “ independent” from the political system and makes decisions based primarily on economic theory since interpreted by wise economists.
The sobre facto reality of the Federal government Reserve is that it is a government agency, run by authorities technocrats, that enjoys the advantages of being subject to very little oversight from Congress. It is forget about “ private” than the Epa, and it is no more a “ bank” than the US Division of the Treasury.
It’s a Purely Political Institution
In its earlier decades, Congress and the Given went to some pains to help make the Fed look like a private organization that was self-funding, economically solvent, and subject to market makes.
For example , the Federal Reserve System was created— at least on paper— as a very decentralized corporation. To this day, it has “ shareholders, ” which are the private “ member” banks of the Federal Reserve. In the early years, the Federal Reserve System’s area banks operated fairly separately. Moreover, these shareholders were (and legally still are) supposed to incur losses when the Federal Reserve is in the particular red. Back in the days of the particular gold exchange standard, the Fed had gold supplies and its “ banknotes” were supposed to be truly tied to all those reserves in the banks. The particular Fed banks made revenue from discounting bills of swap and from charging attention on government bonds. These relatively simple organizations were supposed to loan hold funds to ensure banks had enough liquidity to remain solvent and help deal with financial crises.
The idea of ensuring Fed banks had real funds reserves made some feeling when there was a household gold standard. But that all changed in a big way with the Great Depression. When Franklin Roosevelt ended the gold standard, the Federal Reserve Banks were forced to hands their gold over to the US Treasury. (To this day, the Fed has no gold. ) Then came an enormous growth of the regulatory state’s function in financial matters, and the Given became a big part of this particular. Today, the Fed is certainly far more a regulatory company than it is any sort of “ bank. ”
It Monetizes Government Debt
Then, during the Second World War, the mask completely came from the ruse that the Federal Reserve was something other than a way to essentially launder government debt. As the federal government issued large numbers of new debt to finance the war, the federal government tired the market demand for federal government bonds at the interest rates the federal government was able to pay on the debt. So , the Federal government Reserve stepped in to purchase up large amounts of financial debt, which kept down rates of interest. Fed chairman Henry Morgenthau “ simply decreed that interest rates on the federal government debt would be ‘ chosen ‘ at reduced levels. ” This pegging required the Fed to purchase up a lot of government bonds. But , of course , by then, the particular Fed had no gold and no reserves in any significant sense. It simply made money to buy up these bonds— thus “ monetizing” the debt. There was no economic theory or savvy commonsense “ banking logic” at your workplace. This was simply an organization performing what it was told: funding a war for political figures. Moreover, with the dollar no more tied to gold— specifically after the closing of the precious metal window in 1971 — the Fed could create money largely at will.
All of this grew to become progressively normalized in the decades after the war. But it all of took an additional great jump away from market-based sanity following the financial crisis of 2008. Ever since then, the Federal Reserve has routinely bought up each government debt and mortgage securities as a means of each propping up asset values for politically connected banks and enabling ever-larger amounts of deficit spending by the federal government. For example , when federal politicians in 2020 and 2021 wanted to spend trillions associated with dollars to pay people to not really work during the covid lockdowns, the Federal Reserve had been there yet again to make it possible the federal government to issue trillions of dollars in brand new debt without pushing rates of interest up. The Fed do this by adding more than $3 trillion in government bonds to its portfolio. This particular monetized the new debt in a similar way to what had been done during the Second World War.
Through it all, the particular Fed has just been there to assist the US regime within implementing a variety of policies.
It Can’t Go Bankrupt
In spite of its record, the Given continues to keep up the fictional that it is some kind of private company with a real balance linen, real assets, and real liabilities. But the Fed also doesn’t adhere to any of the sales standards that a real financial institution would employ. As Paul Kupiec and Alex Pollock put it , “ Unlike other financial institutions that have to comply with GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles] accounting standards, the particular Federal Reserve Board chooses on the accounting standards by using to report the Government Reserve System’s income plus balance sheet positions. ”
This reality has become important in the past 12 months because, for the first time in a millennium, the Federal Reserve is certainly losing money. Kupiec and Pollock note , “ If the Fed was obviously a bank or other controlled financial institution, it would be closed since it is already deeply economically insolvent. ” Yet “ ‘ Innovations’ in accounting guidelines adopted by the Federal Book Board in 2011 suggest that the Board intends to disregard the law” and carry on as if there were nothing wrong. It may do this, of course , because the post-gold-standard Fed can create money at will. These “ innovations” are described in detail by Robert Murphy, who noted in 2011 that the Fed had deliberately changed the way it does its accounting to ensure that bankruptcy is really a legal impossibility.
[Read More: “ Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive: The New Accounting at the Fed ” by Robert Murphy]
The fake accounting didn’t issue much in 2011, when the Fed was still essentially solvent. But in 2022, honest sales showed that the Fed was insolvent. How did this particular happen? It’s a result of the truth that the Fed now provides a very similar problem to what the savings and loans got in the late 1980s plus early 1990s.
But whatever its cause, the Fed’s current personal bankruptcy is simply the latest example of how the Fed is in no way a real bank or a private corporation that funds itself via prudent self-management in the marketplace. Worse, the Fed funds alone while in bankruptcy by printing money and inflating aside the value of the dollars held by ordinary people. The Fed is just another tax-funded federal government agency, except that the taxes that funds the Given is the “ inflation” taxes, in which the Fed steals bits of wealth from savers plus workers as it devalues the dollar for the Fed’s own benefit. Or, as Kupiec and Pollock note, the particular Fed can “ monetize Federal Reserve losses, thereby transferring them indirectly through inflation to anyone keeping Federal Reserve notes, money denominated cash balances and fixed-rate assets. ”
The Fed: a possibility private, it’s not financially audio, it’s not a bank. It might be just another government technocracy which is ripping us off.